Video technology has made a leap in the last two years that film makers from Hollywood to Nashville are calling a revolution. A new inexpensive camera is fast forwarding the industry while also leveling the playing field.
In the dim light of a north Nashville tea room, David Lavender adjusts his focus as couples start swing dancing on the hardwood floor.
“Band ready, crowd ready,” he asks.
This is a music video for Humming House, a new band with a throwback feel. Three cameras called digital SLRs or DSLRs are rolling, an impossibility with a $100,000 film camera or high end HD.
“No chance we could have afforded to have three cameras here, all running at once,” Lavender says.
Leveling the Field
A couple thousand dollars gets the best DSLR on the market. The low cost has sprouted a crop of newcomers like this company, Yeah Yeah Creative. Co-founder Tyler Evans calls the cameras a secret weapon.
“Our work thus far has proven us,” he says. “And it’s surprising to us because we are very new. But the cameras make us look a little better than we might be.”
These DSLRs look like – and are really meant to be – still cameras, the kind seen hanging around the neck of a photojournalist. But in recent years companies like Canon and Nikon made them capable of taking video, and the results are something close to the stunning images of film – rich colors and bright picture.
There are a few tradeoffs. Zooming on the fly isn’t easy with the still lenses. And the audio typically has to be recorded separately. But even the pros are trading in their high-dollar cameras.
Last year’s season finale of the Fox drama House was shot with on these still-camera descendants. The show’s director called them “the future,” complimenting the rich picture. NFL Films, long known for sticking to actual film, has even played with DSLRs.
Coming from the other side of the image world, still photographers all the sudden have movie making potential. Stephen Alvarez is a photographer from Sewanee who works for National Geographic. He recently shot a mini-documentary for NPR about prostitution in Nashville.
“It’s a very filmic look,” he says. “The cameras have a very large sensor so that gives you the ability to shoot with a very narrow depth of field. If I want to, I can shoot a video of you talking and just have your eyeball in focus. And that’s a look that until now took a very expensive machine to do.”
An Uncomfortable Shift
But now that the film look is available to the masses, it has created a fundamental shift – one that’s not necessarily comfortable for industry veterans.
Adam Rector owns a Nashville rental shop called The Video Company and says rates are falling.
“Where budgets for a music video were say $50,000, now they’ve dropped down to $20,000 because the camera equipment is cheaper,” he says.
Rector built his business on the premise that professional video cameras are just too expensive for most people to own. At the time the technology was BetaCam, which still run $50,000 and up.
“If cameras keep getting better and cheaper, yeah, we’re in trouble for sure,” Rector says.
The only trouble for viewers is learning how to tell a home video from a Hollywood film.
More: MP3 Direct Link